Monday, July 24, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for 7/21/17

A Northwoods Almanac for July 21 – August 3, 2017  

            Last week, Mary and I paddled on a wilderness bog lake in the U.P. that was home to many hundreds of flowering orchids, and two species, grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosa) and rose pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), comprised all of them (we were too late to see dragon’s-mouth orchid which had already gone-by).
rose polonia photo by Rod Sharka
            Orchids have evolved remarkable flower structures to attract insect pollinators. One petal is usually modified into a lip or a pouch (lady’s slipper orchids, for instance) to ensure pollination. The lip acts as a landing pad, the pouch as a non-lethal trap. Unlike most plants whose pollen grains are microscopic and windborne, orchids concentrate their pollen into wads of “pollinia” hidden or protected within the flower where the wind can’t carry it away. The pollen can only be picked up by specific insects that have co-evolved to fit the flower and be tricked into having the pollen stick to them, thus providing a hitchhiked ride to the next flower.
            The grass pink orchid utilizes an unusual pollination strategy, projecting its “lip” straight up at the top of the flower. 
grass pink orchid photo by John Bates
The lip appears to have many hair-like stamens on it which would ordinarily be the carriers of pollen and nectar, but it’s a ruse. The lip is actually hinged so that when an insect, usually a small bee, lands on the lip anticipating nectar, the weight of the bee causes the lip to fold down at the hinge. In turn, this causes the bee to fall backward onto a curved column beneath it where the pollinia awaits. 
From Charles Johnson's Bogs of the Northeast
The pollinia sticks to the insect’s back, the insect struggles to exit, and then flies to another flower hoping for better luck. But the same event happens again. The next flower receives the pollen from the previous flower, and in turn deposits its pollen onto the unwitting insect, all of whom must be slow learners. Take a look at the following video to see the process:

Paddling the Gile Flowage
On 7/17, Mary and I paddled part of the Gile Flowage in Iron County as part of an event sponsored by the Iron County Outdoor Recreation Enthusiasts. We were led by ace historian and conservationist Cathy Techtmann who works as the Environmental Outreach State Specialist for UW-Extension. The 3,384-acre Gile Flowage is fed by the West Fork of the Montreal River and six other tributary streams, and has 26 miles of mostly undeveloped shoreline. With large outcroppings of exposed bedrock characteristic of the Canadian shield, numerous islands, and protected bays, and surrounded by land mostly owned by Xcel Energy, the Gile has a wild feel. 
The flowage started filling in 1941 after Lake Superior District Power Company (merged into Northern States Power and now Xcel Energy) built a dam 30 feet high and 1100 feet long in 1940 on the West Fork of the Montreal River. The flowage serves as a water retention reservoir for downstream hydroelectric facilities at Saxon Falls and Superior Falls on the Montreal River.
I’m used to shallow waters in our area that are covered with aquatic vegetation, but a study of the Gile found 85% of the littoral area (near-shore shallows) contained no aquatic vegetation, a likely consequence of summer and winter drawdowns conducted by Xcel Energy. A typical annual water level regime includes a gradual summer drawdown beginning in early May and averaging 6 feet by October. Winter drawdown begins in early December and typically averages another 7 to 8 feet by early March.
The Gile holds the lamentable title of the first inland water body in Wisconsin to be invaded by the exotic spiny water flea, but so far its direct impact on the fishery is unclear. A native of Asia, this tiny crustacean was brought to Lake Superior in the ballast water of transoceanic ships and discovered in the Gile in 2003. Spiny water fleas eat the microscopic freshwater plankton needed by baby game fish.

This is big water and wind is often an issue here for paddlers, but if you’re looking to explore a little-known body of water quite different than most in our area, then try the Gile.

Deer Fly Patches
            I write about this nearly every year, but just for a reminder in case your memory is as leaky as mine, there is a simple way to defeat the incessant circling, and biting, of deer flies around one’s head. A company in LeRoy, MI, makes sticky, odorless deerfly patches that you place on the top of your hat. One side is mildly sticky like duct tape, and this is the side you place down on your hat. The other side, the upside, is very sticky, and deer flies, which almost always go for the highest point on a person, adhere to the tape instantly. Basically, you make yourself into a walking fly trap. When you’re done working or playing outside for the day, you just roll the tape off your hat into a ball and toss it, and the flies, into the waste can. Simple, no chemicals, and it works like a charm. Since no insect repellants work on deer flies, I’ve used the patches for years. Get them at many sports shops in our area or through the company’s website:
deer fly patch doing its job!
7/3: Judith Bloom reported seven pairs of loons of Lake Tomahawk, of which four hatched chicks and one was still on a nest.
7/12: Pyrollas, or shinleafs, are in flower in sandier soils in our area. In the wintergreen family, the waxy, typically white flowers always hang downward. Another member of the wintergreen family, pippsissewa, is also now in flower and likewise hangs downward.
7/13: An eagle chick fledged from the nest which we watch across the Manitowish River from our home. This is a bit early, but not as early as the eagle chick that fledged near Bob Kovar’s home in Manitowish Waters. It fledged on 7/2. Our early snow-off and ice-out this spring made early nesting an option, and many eagles appear to have taken advantage of it. Bob notes that “his” eagle is making a huge racket, which is typical of young eaglets who may beg for food well into the fall.
7/14: Silver maples below our house are turning red already due to stress from high water. The Manitowish River has been in flood since April, and all that water is proving to be too stressful for some trees.
7/15: On a hike at Powell Marsh WMA, we found Deptford pink wildflowers. These delicate, tall, exquisitely pink flowers were given the Latin genus name Dianthus: Dianthus from “dios” which means God, and “anthos” for flower – the divine flower. Unfortunately, Deptfor pink is an escapee – an introduced flower. However, it is not in the least bit invasive, so we still marvel when we see it.

Deptford pink
7/16: Sarah Krembs sent a photo of a black bear gorging on sunflower seeds from a tube feeder that she had just filled 20 minutes earlier. Kind of the bear to give the birds a brief breakfast first.

Frog Count
            Mary and I concluded our three frog counts for the year on July 13. What struck me this year was how comparatively early our nine frog species all began singing, courtesy I’m sure of our early ice-out which moved up the normal timing. The frogs that are left singing now in mid-July are green frogs and bullfrogs. The rest have bred, laid eggs, and are living their more terrestrial lifestyles now. Occasionally spring peepers still chime in, and may do so all the way into the fall, but their breeding period is long past.

Fireworks and Wildlife
July 4th is over - enough with the fireworks already! Why am I a curmudgeon about this? Here’s one reason from a writer on Little Arbor Vitae Lake:
“We are summertime residents of Arbor Vitae on Little Arb. We have a beautiful gray fox who comes nearly every evening on his or her nightly rounds . . . My grandfather always called gray foxes tree foxes, but I had never witnessed one actually climb a tree until this summer. On July 3, my daughter and I were sitting on our front porch. The fox came along and climbed a tree right across from where we were sitting. Our neighbors whose cottage you cannot see, as they are far enough away, decided that it would be fun to throw strings of firecrackers into the road. The first string of firecrackers exploded when the fox was about twelve feet up; the poor fox was so startled that it either jumped or fell out of the tree! Whap! Whap! Whap! Thump! It immediately started crying. I know they make a bark; it was not the bark; it was their other vocalization. You know, your first instinct is to jump up and make sure it was okay, especially because its distress was caused by another human, but I thought, "No, I have to just let things happen." The fox laid there and cried intermittently for about twenty minutes and then after that was silent. My daughter and I feared the worst. But we saw a fox two nights later and assume it to be the same fox. What a relief! It was astonishing enough to see the fox climb the tree, and it was quite distressing to see it fall out and cry. I am upset that this was a man-made problem. Anyway, that is my tale, and I am still excited to see this fox nearly every day. What a treat!”

Celestial Events
            The new moon occurs on 7/23. We’re down to 15 hours of daylight as of 7/26. This is our last warmest day of the summer with an average high of 79°. The peak Delta Aquarid meteor shower takes place in the early morning of 7/28 – look for an average of 15 to 20 meteors per hour. Look on the evening of 8/2 for Saturn about 3 degrees south of the waxing gibbous moon.

Thought for the Week
“And that is just the point . . . how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. ‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?’” ~ Mary Oliver

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for July 7, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for July 7 – 20, 2017   

White Admiral Butterflies: Denise Fauntleroy in Watersmeet sent me photos of a flock of 50 or so white admiral butterflies that she observed near her front door on 7/1. Larry Weber in his book Butterflies of the North Woods writes that “white admirals take in nutrients from mammal scat, bird guano, aphid honey, puddles, wet sand, or pavement.” (How does one take in nutrients from pavement)? White admirals are also known to sip from sap flows, rotting fruit, carrion, and occasionally nectar from small white flowers including spiraeas and viburnums.

white admirals photo by Denise Fauntleroy

Why the flock of 50 at Denise’s door? While white admirals are abundant, I can’t find anything in my research regarding large congregations like this. The caterpillar larvae feed predominantly on cherry, willow, and birch trees, but also alder, juneberry, hawthorn, basswood, and elm. Some constellation of conditions must have come together to attract so many.
Dragon’s-mouth Orchids: On 6/20, Mary and I paddled on the Little Tamarack Flowage as part of trip offered through the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. We were specifically interested in finding dragon’s-mouth orchids (Arethusa bulbosa), and we were pleased to find individuals of these beautiful rose-purple flowers scattered widely throughout the site. Dragon’s-mouth typically grows on a bed of sphagnum moss around bog lakes. The tongue of the orchid has fleshy yellow bristles, which I suppose to some creative soul was what they imagined a dragon’s tongue to look like. The genus name Arethusa comes from the river nymph of classical Greek mythology.

Dragon's-mouth orchid photo by Rod Sharka

Roadside Flowers: Just recently flowering in open areas are purple vetch, common St. Johnswort, fireweed, birdsfoot trefoil, common milkweed, wild roses, spreading dogbane, yarrow, tall buttercup, oxeye daisy, heal-all, and an array of others.
Young-of-the-year Hummers: Dennis McCarthy in the Land O’Lakes area sent me photos of young-of-the-year ruby-throated hummingbirds at his nectar feeders. Hummers typically raise two young in their tiny nests, who fledge in two to three weeks. The female does all of the incubation and rearing of the young, feeding them regurgitated nectar and insects. The male, on the other hand, spends his time frenetically defending his quarter-acre feeding territory from other hummers, and even from the female, or females, he has mated with.
Hummers feed on more than 30 nectar-producing flower species, at least 19 of which are adapted to be pollinated as the bird forages. Pollen is deposited on the base of the bill and then carried to another flower – columbine and bee balm are two examples.
Turtle Eggs: Deb and Randy Augustinak in Land O’Lakes sent me an all too familiar photo on 6/20 of turtle eggs dug up and eaten. Their comment: “Like previous years, the snapping turtles in the Ontonagon River laid their eggs along the roadside, only to have them quickly found and devoured by the coyotes. The coyote scat and hair usually confirms who walked away with an easy meal. The shells were still soft and pliable when we found them this morning, with some still containing yoke. It's amazing that snappers have managed to survived for so long, considering the predators that feast upon their eggs.”

photo by Deb Augustinak

Japanese Knotweed
The Town of Presque Isle Terrestrial Invasive Species Committee has been working to eradicate garlic mustard for 10 years, and this year has hired a professional eradicator to control Japanese knotweed on public and private property in and around the town.
I first encountered Japanese knotweed while at a conference in rural Vermont nearly a decade ago. The roadsides were clothed in a monotype of dense 10-foot-tall plants that looked like bamboo. I didn’t know what the plant was, but it clearly was extraordinarily invasive. I quickly found out it was Japanese knotweed, and I’ve been worried ever since that it would appear someday in our area. Well, it’s here. Its roots go as deep as 9 feet and can penetrate asphalt and concrete, readily spreading and dominating wetlands, lakeshores, and roadside ditches within 10 years. Seriously, you literally have to use a machete to hack your way through them. If you see this plant, don’t hesitate for a second to kill it with an herbicide. And if you planted it innocently in your yard, you owe it to everyone in the North to eliminate it immediately.

example of how invasive Japanese knotweed can become

Mosquito Squad/Authority – Safe?
            I’ve received several inquiries from folks who have seen the “Mosquito Authority” or “Mosquito Squad” signs now proliferating around our area, and who are wondering about the safety of spraying for mosquitoes. Here’s what I’ve found. The pesticides are pyrethroids, typically bifenthrin, permethrin, or cyfluthrin. These are broad spectrum insecticides used to kill a variety of insects. They work by quickly paralyzing the nervous systems of insects, killing adults, eggs, and larvae.

            You may have seen clothing that is advertised to repel mosquitoes. The only insect repellent currently used for factory treatment of clothing is permethrin.
The EPA has this to say about permethrin: “Permethrin was first registered and tolerances established in the United States in 1979 for use on cotton . . . Permethrin is registered for use on/in numerous food/feed crops, livestock and livestock housing, modes of transportation, structures, buildings (including food handling establishments), Public Health Mosquito abatement programs, and numerous residential use sites including use in outdoor and indoor spaces, pets, and clothing (impregnated and ready to use formulations).”
Pyrethroids are considered non-toxic to birds and mammals, but the EPA adds, “Permethrin is highly toxic to both freshwater and estuarine aquatic organisms. Most agricultural, public health, and down-the-drain scenarios modeled resulted in exceedances in the acute risk quotient (RQ) for freshwater and estuarine fish, invertebrates, and sediment organisms. The agricultural and public health scenarios also showed the potential for chronic risks to estuarine and/or freshwater organisms . . . [Also] Permethrin toxicity data show that the compound is highly toxic to honeybees, as well as other beneficial insects.”
There’s a great deal of scientific information on-line if one does a simple Google search, and I recommend taking the time to read all you can. I fully understand the desire to have a mosquito-free life, but as with any use of a broad spectrum insecticide, there are risks involved, and losses will accrue to unintended organisms. This is a value judgement that must be made by any individual choosing to use these products.

Solar Project at the Mercer Library
Kudos to the Mercer Town Board in approving the installation of a 6kW solar energy system for the Mercer Library. The town will save an estimated $1000 per year in energy costs over the 25-year warrantied life of the system components. The system will be paid for entirely by the Friends of the Mercer Library. The Friends have also committed to paying for any maintenance and upkeep costs for the system, expenses which are predicted to be insignificant. 
Solar energy projects at Lakeland Union High School, the Merrill library, the Wisconsin Rapids library, the Cable library, Bayfield Electric near Iron River, the Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, and many other public locations in Wisconsin have proven that solar energy can be a viable supplemental source of energy for the Northwoods. 
The Mercer project will include a monitoring system that allows anyone with internet access to monitor its energy output. Some folks remain skeptical about the viability of solar in the Northwoods. This demonstration project will hopefully provide honest, on-the-ground answers regarding its applicability. Features of the proposed solar energy system include:
·      A 6.03 kilowatt solar system, which will produce approximately 7500 KW per year
·      18 Canadian Solar CS6U-340M 340 watt panels (all components are made in US, except the Canadian panels) from Let It Shine Energy Services, LLC, in Washburn
·      All electrical components, excavation, concrete, labor and utility company integration
·      Price $22,445, paid by the Friends of the Mercer Library through generous supporters.

Alexander Wilson in Nashville
Thirty-three species of birds nest on the ground in northern Wisconsin, about one-fifth of our total nesting species. The total includes 13 species of warblers, one of which is the Nashville warbler which commonly nests under blueberry bushes along the edges of lakes, bogs and swamps. Why is it called the “Nashville” warbler since it does not now, nor has it ever, bred in Nashville? Indeed, it nests in northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada and winters in Mexico! The name was given to it in 1811 from a specimen collected by Alexander Wilson on the banks of the Cumberland River, which flows through Nashville, while the bird was migrating.
While Wilson, considered “the Father of American Ornithology,” should have known better in misnaming the Nashville, he wins big points from me because he was also a weaver and a poet. Born in 1779 in Scotland and apprenticed as a weaver, he was inspired by Robert Burns to write poetry, and because of writing a severe satirical piece against a mill owner, he was arrested and imprisoned. His sentence included burning the work in public. After his release, he emigrated to America where he eventually turned to birds and illustrating them through painting. His 1808 nine-volume American Ornithology included 26 birds never before described.

from Audubon Field Guide
Alexander Wilson

Celestial Events
            The year’s warmest days on average occur between July 7 and 29 – the Minocqua area averages a high of 79° and a low of 55°.
            The full moon occurs on 7/8, which is also the year’s lowest and southernmost full moon.
            As of 7/10, we’re receiving 15 hours and 30 minutes of daylight, down from our solstice high of 15 hours and 45 minutes – our days are now growing shorter by 2 minutes/day.
            July 20 marks the day in 1969 that Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the moon.

Quote for the Week
            “Sometimes I come across a tree which seems like Buddha or Jesus: loving, compassionate, still, unambitious, enlightened, in eternal meditation, giving pleasure to a pilgrim, shade to a cow, berries to a bird, beauty to its surroundings, health to its neighbors, branches for the fire, leaves for the soil, asking nothing in return, in total harmony with the wind and the rain. How much can I learn from a tree? The tree is my church, the tree is my temple, the tree is my mantra, the tree is my poem and my prayer.” - Satish Kumar